Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Interview With Nigerian Princess Funke Adedoyin

A roll on Princess Funke Adedoyin…

SUNDAY, 24 MARCH 2013 00:00

“ANYTHING that’s worth anything takes time,” says Justin Holman, lead singer of the group, Revis. This could mean so many things. And for me, it’s just getting Princess Funke Adedoyin talk.

We had re-scheduled this interview for the umpteenth time. Not that I had expected the chat to be a catwalk. But just that I was getting tired of being given another date.

After holding up for a while, here I was in Adedoyin’s living room, chatting and throwing banters. Her humour stuck out. Like a new page, she was ready to be written on.

Adedoyin, a two-time minister in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007, is a reporter's delight.

“I come from a large family. Normal Yoruba middle class family. I grew up seeing my dad also grow up. We were living in central Lagos, and then, we moved and then we moved,” she babbles with pride.

She continues, “the houses got bigger and cars became countless. I grew up in a family where we worked, everybody worked. We learnt that working hard has its own good results. We learnt to invest our time, our money while flexing our energies in business.”

She takes a deep breath, smiles and orders me to sip the fruit drink that has just been brought as the interview progressed.

“The wonderful thing about growing up, there was no major eruption of any kind. Things just progressively improved. I'm the second child. My dad has five girls in a roll before having any boy,” she says.

Adedoyin draws a long laugh. “I think I was the boy in the house. I climbed trees, kicked balls across our fence, broke people’s windows. I was that one. We had an exceptionally close relationship with our parents while growing up. All my friends remark on how close we all were. Ours was just a house full of people going and coming.”

One of the things she took away from dad and which she tries to do all the time is, the ‘pleasure of solitude’. “Despite being surrounded by so many people, I had my escape routes to be alone and read,” she retorts. “In the Ikoyi house, we had the guest bathroom under the staircase and I’ll just creep in there to be alone. I learnt how to be alone and to enjoy my own company. I also learnt how to be with lots of people. I learnt leadership and equity – we have to share whatever we had with so many people.”

According to her, “the most remarkable thing is that I changed schools often. As my dad did better, the quality of schools improved. I was the experiment. Every year or two, I moved to another school. It worked in my favour. When I was nine years, I was out of primary school and in secondary, it speeded up my education. By the time I was 22 years old, I was back home with a first degree and two masters’. I was done, finished and good to go. I always had a head start. I was always with older people. All my classmates were older than me. But, that didn’t mean I was quiet, as I was actually the toughest as well. That’s my growing up.”

You wonder what challenges faced Funke in school, her job, pursuing a career and raising a family?

“Oh, challenges?” She asks rhetorically.

With her eyes wide open, she now looks like the politician she is. She says in a brash, but warm way, “I think in Nigeria, the major thing about going to school was that I was bored all the time. There weren’t many challenges. I would say being the kind of child I was, made it easy. There were stuffs that I was good at and I just did them. While nobody forced me to do stuffs I really never liked.”

It’s hard not to see her mood change as she recalls her time in England. “I would say the challenges I had came when I was in the UK for my first degree. I had challenge because I was so young. I applied for the university at age 15 and no one was ready to take me. That was a bit challenging. One of the things that marked me was just the amount of serendipity … that wonderful ability of finding something you really wanted when you aren’t looking for it. The year I was looking for admission in the university was the year Great Britain was starting new universities by putting together Colleges of Higher Education maybe three or four in accounting merging them to form what they called the Red Brick Universities at that time.

“So, they didn’t use the university system in the UK called ACCA, which everybody had to go through. Even at that time, it was computerised. You fill the form; you go through the normal procedures. We did direct application with the Red Brick Universities. Everybody else was older and my social life was zero until my third year when I became the Social Function Secretary for International Students. I ran a pub as I was raised selling things while growing up. I organised a protest against apartheid in Africa. It was fun. Education was easy for me. I had to do a four-year course because I was younger. They actually had to keep me back. I enjoy learning. Even now, I still do courses yearly.”

What influenced her choice of study in the university and career?

“In the UK, you can do amazing combination of degrees. I did a degree in Social Science. There’s what we call PPE — Politics Philosophy and Economics — because that’s what I liked. I’ve always been political. It’s either I was a class monitor, a prefect etc. I always play a part in structures that govern me,” she says.

“Political, I don’t understand why anyone will not be interested in the structures that govern him or her. Since I was a child, I was always the one that will say, ‘daddy, why do we have to do it like this’. And I remember, there was a coup, I really can’t say which. I said to my dad after the coup, why is it always men wearing caps that says to us, ‘they are now the head of state?’ and my dad looked at me and said, go and be wearing cap,” she laughs.

“I’m always very aware. I love newspapers and magazines. I love reading. So, I was always up to date with what was happening with governance. And, I think it just naturally progressed from there. There were just those things that interested me. Philosophy interested me because I wanted to know why. Economics interested me because I grew up in an environment where you made money, and so, I needed to understand it. Politics interested me because I'm just a political animal. That was what I did for my first degree. And I felt I needed to do something for my dad, so that I could come home and work with him. So, I did my first Post Graduate in Management Science and then after that I felt I needed to please myself. Then I started a Ph. D in International Trade and Development. As you grow older, your focus narrows, I think. And I began to look at the question of underdevelopment and Africa. I almost became a racist. I was very African centric and black conscious. And I wanted to understand the issues of underdevelopment in Africa. That was why I started the Ph. D but unfortunately, I couldn’t finish. Everyone worried I’ll be unmarriageable. It wasn’t about age, but qualifications. Then, they knew every Ph. D holder who had no husband. I was young enough to be persuaded. Not that I wanted to marry. So, I came back home.”

BEING a rich kid in the UK, how was she able to cope with the running of a pub?

She smiles. “Learning is a gift,” she says, drawing my attention to a poster on the wall about leadership. “The leadership skill has always been in me, thanks to my dad. And I don’t like the definition of rich kids – in this season where people are becoming rich through hardwork. Like us, we saw the money grow. We knew the entire depot, all the shops, and all the managers. So, I don’t know whether this rich thing should be applied.

“Well, maybe, how a person was reared. I think this environment is unkind to people who are well to do. I really don’t like the word ‘rich’ because I don’t believe rich is about money. I say to people, if the president’s son is a drug addict, everybody hears. But, if a driver’s son is a drug addict, who cares.

“Everything, even the Bible says Life and Chance happen towards all. There's nothing that’s peculiar to any particular class. It’s just that the cause of prominence of one class is more obvious. So, I say to people, I don’t apologise for my background. It just so happened that was my background. Even it has nothing to do with me. It wasn’t because I was clever or lucky. That is just where I was born. Wonderful opportunities. I thank God all the time, but I guess whatever situation one finds oneself, you do all you can to change that. So, it just happened I am opportune, no apologies.”

Is she such a religious woman?

Funke has a very intimate relationship with God. According to the former minister, who is now into real estate and construction, “in our house, everybody comes for morning prayers. Even when we were old enough to sneak out and go clubbing or to parties, everybody will be running home because there’s no excuse to miss morning prayers at 6am.”

She says, “it’s just not negotiable except you’re physically in hospital. If you’re in that house, you must be at morning prayers. And we went to church every Sunday. So, we all grew up with the understanding that there’s a God who answers prayers. My dad had a peculiar way of praying. He always talk to God as if God was his friend and he’ll say stuffs like, ‘you know, this my house that I want to build o, God help me to build it’. He would come to prayers at 6am and say, ‘God, the six flats in Surulere, I want to let them out for N300,000 though everybody says I can’t get it, Lord I want you to help me’ and he will. So, we all grew up with this concept of God whom you will ask and who will give.”

Her countenance relaxes, as she sips from the mineral water by her side. “All my dad’s kids are Christians, but mum is a Muslim and she never took any of us to the mosque. One of my sisters, Bimbola, is a pastor. She’s equally married to a pastor, Sola Fola Alade. She and I were always close. So, when I was leaving home, I took her with me… even to England where she eventually schooled, but she married in Nigeria to a medical doctor. She’s a lawyer. And they both run the biggest Redeem Parish Church in the UK. Even our first son is in pastoral school,” the lady sings.

“We still do everything that normal people do. We just have that sense of normal relationship with God. My mum is what I call a closet Christian. When you go to her room, you see her listening to Adeboye’s preaching tapes, listening to Christian songs and watching him on video. She can’t come out to admit she’s a Christian. She doesn’t want it to look like we’ve converted her,” Funke laughs out loud.

HER achievement as a minister?

She says they are there to be seen and read. The first priority for her as Minister of Youth Development was to put youth on the agenda in Nigeria. At the time, she became a minister of youth; a 40-year-old man was still a youth as far as they were concerned. So for her, the critical thing was first to define whom a young person was, then have a National Youth Policy, which her administration did.

There was a National Youth Action Plan in the national policy. Fresh elections for the National Youth Council of Nigeria were held and young persons were put in charge.

She also took the issue of the youth to the National Economic Summit for the first time, and youth as an economic factor was on the agenda. She ensured that the youth were seen as a segment different from women. They were seen as a people who had different needs and issues.

So, tell me something about Funke Adedoyin.

“I like to cook, I am very home proud. I actually like to entertain. I'm simple and I'm cool,” she says confidently.

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